The Viva Vine: vol #3, no #1: January / February
Vegetarian Street Advocacy Taking Root by Pamela Teisler
"Well, Jesse, here we are, but I'm not sure I'm ready to start yet. Give me a minute to gear
up for this, would ya?"
"Maybe we ought to go to another corner," Jesse said.
"No, this is fine," I replied. But I'm afraid he was right.
I had a problem getting up the energy (read: nerve) this time for some reason. I just didn't
seem to like the scene here at what was the last of 6 concerts given by the Grateful Dead at The
Garden. I perceived the people, not just the "dead heads" here at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street, as
unfriendly. Everyone who walked by seemed to be in a rush to get where they were going. This was
a crowd that was going to be either brutally indifferent, I thought, or quick with the
Finally I felt I could hesitate no more and pulled on my head stocking with the plastic fruit
on the top. Then, on with my sandwich board.
I handed Jesse his headband with plastic fruit on it. (There's a little unwritten rule; if
you go out with The VivaVegie Society, it behooves you to wear some trappings of the trade.)
Soon our first person approaches, saying "I am a vegetarian."
"Good for you," I begin sincerely. "I believe we need..." But off she walked.
As we know, I make it my business to promote conversation about vegetarianism with what I
call my vegetarian street advocacy. My sandwich board reads, "Ask me why I'm a vegetarian," and
the plastic fruit on my hat? well, it attracts a lot of attention; there's no doubt about that.
My group, The VivaVegie Society, has been out many times over the last 2 and a half years on
the streets of New York City, educating, angering, delighting, and upsetting a lot of people
about the facts of our society's meat centered diet. We have regularly been out on the streets of
New York City for special events, or just at crowded intersections.
"So why are you a vegetarian?" I hear from a teenager before me. "Ah, my first victim," I
"Well, I have my "101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian" right here, which I wrote; my reasons
fall into 3 main categories. One, I believe it is much better for my health; two, a vegetarian
diet alleviates an enormous amount of stress to our environment; and three, our society's meat
centered diet supports an atrocious system of factory farming in our country."
"But how do you get your protein?" the teen inquired.
"Protein?" I say, as a curious man with a disheveled hat sheepishly walks up.
"The truth of the matter is," I continued, "people in this country get far too much protein,
especially animal protein. There was a mammoth size epidemiological study that was done in China
several years ago which proved that the optimal requirements for animal fat and protein are much
lower than we previously thought. In fact it has been virtually proven that a diet primarily made
up of plant food is the healthiest."
At this point the man with the dishevelled hat chimes in, walking away as he is speaking,
"but what about plants; don't you care about plants?"
The man walked away too fast to get his answer. Jesse, however, decided to respond to the
query for the benefit of the four new people who had gathered around us. He explained, "first of
all, there has been only one study that supposedly proved that plants have feelings. It was done
in 1968 on only seven plants. No one else has been able to repeat this experiment. And the
scientist who conducted it, is also unwilling to repeat his own experiment. Upon such flimsy
findings the media seem to love to speak about the feelings of plants. So we really have no
evidence of plants being able to feel pain; and the fact of the matter is, if you really care
about plants in this regard, you would definitely want to become a vegetarian as it takes about
12-16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. It follows, therefore, that quite a bit of
wheat would have to suffer quite a bit of *agony* on its way, via the cow or steer, to becoming a
pound of meat. Next question..."
"But eating meat is natural; man has always eaten meat," said a new person who just joined
"One hundred and some years ago slavery was also considered natural," I responded, "but as
people moved on in their understanding of things over time they learned a different perspective.
Slavery today is thought to be barbaric. I predict that this is how future generations will
perceive meat diets. People will become aware of all the really powerful information that I
itemize in this document," at which point I held up a copy of my "101 Reasons Why I'm a
"Vegetarianism will be the diet of the 21st century; there is simply no question about that.
Our mother Earth just won't let us go on with this excessive meat centered diet. People will
learn, despite what industry and consumerism tells us, that a meat centered diet is devastating,
not only to human health but also to the world ecology. I might add that I do not think that man
throughout history has been feasting on meat and/or dairy products three times a day, seven days
a week as we do today. In fact, we in the west, in the U.S. in particular, are suffering these
days from the diseases of the kings and queens of old -- just look at the prevalence of heart
disease and stroke, the gout, cancers and diabetes. These are all largely due to our excessive
animal-based diets. As for mother nature not letting us go on this way, I would like to quote a
man who is very involved with this issue, a Dr. Michael Klaper, who writes, 'The price tag on the
supermarket chuck steak does not include the loss of irreplaceable topsoil; yet future
generations will pay dearly.' The truth is, we are stealing from future generations every time we
chose animal foods for our plate."
At this point a person wearing a large anti-fur button on his lapel walks up with a smile on
his face. "And what about the animals?" he asks.
"There are no laws to protect animals used for food in this country," I expounded. "There is
absolutely nothing to prevent a company from keeping a million hens row upon row in tiny cages in
one facility, and some do. What kind of sanitation problems do you think this kind of intense
confinement causes? But when you alone eat hundreds of chickens per year, you add a lot to the
need for this kind of production."
"And the ethics of this issue? Do we as humans have any right to confine chickens or pigs or
veal calves in tiny cages? Do we have any right to administer drugs to these animals, a necessity
when confinement is so intense? Again, there are no laws to protect animals used for food in this
You know the story of the veal calf that lives its entire miserable life in a shipping crate.
These animals are not auto parts, although that is how they are treated. No matter how much you
want to think otherwise, food animals are sentient beings who feel pain, become curious, and have
individual personalities (ask anyone who has a chicken or a pig for a pet). These are creatures,
who just like you and me desire to fulfill needs and natural instincts."
Most of my audience took their leave at this point, some first taking a moment to pick up a
few sundry pieces of literature I had on hand. The guy with the anti-fur button, however, took a
moment to purchase a copy of my "101 Reasons..." It was going to be a productive day after
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